For more than a decade, Greg Mahle has been taking his massive semi truck through the deep south, plucking abused, neglected, and homeless shelter dogs from certain death. Every other week, it’s the same routine: Greg drives 2,100 miles south, loads the truck up with dogs, and drives 2,100 back home to distribute them to waiting families.
What Mahle and journalist Peter Zheutlin—also a recipient of one of these “Rescue Road” dogs—call the “last hope highway” is quite literally these dogs’ last chance at finding homes. At this point, Mahle estimates he’s rescued more than 50,000 dogs.
There’s something to be said for the unbelievable number of canines abandoned in the south; Zheutlin attributes it to several things:
There’s a huge overpopulation problem, and it’s complicated, it’s cultural, social, economic, political. For one thing, there isn’t, in a lot of parts of the South — and I don’t want to generalize too much — but there isn’t as strong a spay and neuter culture there, and a lot of dogs live outdoors. So naturally, they do what comes naturally.
Though the northern part of the U.S. also has its fair share of overpopulation issues, Zheutlin goes on to explain that there’s even more at play here. Southern culture is simply not the same in regards to pets—generally, families do not share their beds with their dogs, nor do they desire their company while they cooking. Dogs are viewed primarily as property and not family.
And while there are many happy dogs kickin’ back in the south, a large proportion end up as strays or in shelters. Mahle knows he won’t always like what he sees, but when the good things come of all his hard work? Well, those moments have the power to change you.
“People are capable of doing horrible and unspeakable things,” he says. “People are also capable of showing love to an extent that will just melt you. I get to see both of those things.”
And we get to see the immense gratitude in each pair of eyes when these dogs realize their futures are bright and filled with love. That, and the tail wags. Nothing makes our hearts swell more than that.